India passed a historic decision of liberalizing geospatial data policy last month. It means that geospatial data will now be freely available, putting an end to regulatory inertia and the heavy restrictions on the mapping industry.
“The Department of Science and Technology is announcing sweeping changes to India’s mapping policy, specifically for Indian companies. What is readily available globally does not need to be restricted in India,” the government said in a press release.
This revolutionary move will unlock a new era of growth, and innovation for modern enterprises and will help the country to achieve the goal of a 5 trillion-dollar self-reliant economy.
Why Geospatial Data Matters
Geospatial data is more than just location data. It is made up of several layers of information about objects and features on the Earth’s surface that offers great insights to drive decision making across the board.
On-demand food delivery platforms use spatial data and a range of statistical mapping methods from the pre-order phase to post-order phase in order to maintain their serviceability standards. They use GeoFiltering to assign deliverable outlets to a customer, rely on Open Street Maps to determine the route distance within a few milliseconds and have a stress system in place to maintain demand-supply equilibrium. Insights captured by geospatial data allows these companies to calculate first mile time, assignment delay, prep time, wait time, and last mile time (including surge time).
Studying the role of spatial data in managing online food delivery service gives us a 360 degree view of its power, value and potential. But it is not limited to this business. For the ride hailing industry, multi-layered location data assists in determining pickup, drop offs, routing, ETAs, and pricing. Logistics rely on it for route planning, and delivery optimization. Consumer apps are able to add a map layer for browsing nearby services. It is helpful in every sphere of social and economic development of an economy.
Therefore, the modern digital ecosystem evolved at a much faster rate in countries with liberalised geospatial and mapping policies like the US compared to India.
This is all set to change with the new guidelines announced by DST.
Key highlights of the new Geospatial Policy
The government acknowledged that the developmental needs of the country can be met only if the restrictions on mapping are lifted. The modern digital ecosystem relies heavily on location information and making it easily accessible will enable economic, social and environmental reforms. Sustainable growth and development of the country necessitated this policy change.
The main objective of the new policy is to promote speed, accuracy and scale in decision making. Here are the notable highlights:
- Liberalization – Map making is now completely deregulated in India. The process of approval for surveying and mapping will be smooth.
- Democratization – Anyone can make a map. It is a level playing field now for the public as well as the private sector. No prior approvals, security clearances, and licenses are required for acquisition and production of geospatial data and geospatial data services including maps.
- Permission to acquire and produce all data – You can map any and all areas that are physically accessible, except sensitive attributes. No more redaction of locations on the map. There are restrictions on attributes (labels, identifiers) rather than restrictions on areas for surveying and mapping.
- Data localisation – High spatial accuracy geospatial data, finer than 1m horizontally and 3m vertically, to be acquired and owned only by Indian entities and stored in India.
- Data licensing – Fine data (high spatial accuracy) can be licensed by foreign entities but cannot be owned by them and can be accessed through APIs. Coarse data can be continued to be owned by anyone globally.
- Atmanirbhar Bharat – Terrestrial Mobile Mapping survey, Street View survey and surveying in Indian territorial waters is permitted only to Indian entities.
- Commercial use of public geospatial data – All geospatial data produced using public funds, except classified geospatial data, to be made accessible for scientific, economic and developmental purposes to all Indian Entities without any restrictions,
- Collaboration with Government – Government agencies and others to collaborate and work towards open-linked geospatial data platforms.
- Crowdsourcing Welcome – Crowdsourcing efforts will be encouraged and public funds will be put to use towards it.
- Self-Certification – Companies dealing with geospatial data to self-certify their activities and their adherence to the geospatial data policy guidelines.
How it will transform the business ecosystem
The biggest change that we foresee is that Indian businesses will no longer be reliant on foreign resources for mapping technologies and services. The new policy is perfectly aligned with the several economic development initiatives started by the government such as Atmanirbhar Bharat, Make in India, and Digital India.
Deregulation and liberalization of geospatial data and maps is a massive step forward in becoming an Atmanirbhar Bharat. This was a much-needed policy change and long overdue. Without the burden of red tape, restrictions and permissions, Indian companies will be now at par with global companies,
Up until now, the strict restrictions on collecting, storage, use, sale, dissemination of geospatial data, and mapping stunted the growth and development of mapping technologies. This negatively impacted the bottom line of location-based services, such as e-commerce, delivery & logistics and ride sharing/hailing service. Revenue growth of logistics-heavy industries was also deeply affected. With restrictions lifted, these industries and businesses can now leverage geospatial insights to improve their bottom line.
Regulatory delays were holding back the digital economy and was not allowing Indian enterprises to innovate and scale at the speed their global counterparts could. Make in India is now a reality for industries that can benefit from geospatial data.New employment opportunities will also open up in the geospatial sector. We already have the best mapping talent in the world that currently work for global MNCs such as Google Maps, Apple Maps, Amazon and Uber. This talent pool along with new learners can now be hired by Indian companies.
The future we envision
Geospatial data can answer even the most basic questions, which affects businesses, governments, and individuals. It can support decision making at all levels and in the most unheard and unexplored way. The way on-demand food delivery businesses can calculate accurate ETAs down to the minute or confidently float ‘On-Time or Free’ campaign thanks to mapping technology, we too can find solutions to most of the problems if we refine and study location and attributes at a granular level.
For this same reason, we are excited about India’s new geospatial policy. It has the power to unlock greater possibilities and unparalleled innovation.
We hope that this would start a new chapter for individuals, communities, companies and organisations involved with mapping in India. If you would like to explore how maps and geospatial data can transform your business, get in touch with us. We’ll be happy to discuss and explore if maps have answers to your questions.
(The author is Co-Founder, Nextbillion.ai and the views expressed in this article are his own)